A still from Antonioni's movie Blow-Up in which Thomas conducts a fashion shoot.

Above: A still from Antonioni's movie Blow-Up in which the sociopathic photographer Thomas conducts a fashion shoot. Credit: Warner Bros.

Puritanism

The atmosphere of puritanism (OED: "extreme strictness or adherence to doctrines or principles; puritanical behaviour; austerity; censoriousness") that has come to dominate the British workplace makes the job of the fashion photographer all the more tricky--so that fashion photography now requires more craft, good judgment, and nuance than ever before.

The basic job of the fashion photographer is to create an aura, ambience, mood, or suggestion of simmering eroticism around a fashion garment (for designer brands this is, not Uniqlo). Sex, or sexiness, sells. Designer fashion branding is all about--and has always been about--the ambience of sexual longing.

In order to achieve a sex-charged atmosphere in a photo the fashion photographer must evoke a quality of joie de vivre in those modelling in front of the camera. This cannot be achieved by saying, say, "now look sexy" or "now look flirty." Rather, it is the creative work of the entire shoot: the fashion photographer (like the movie director) is involved in crafting an end-product and must deploy numerous strategies and effects to create it--cool music, alcohol perhaps, but above all, verbal coaxing.

I have seen a few of the best at work--Bailey, Testino, Helmut Newton, Rankin, Snowdon, among others--and all have their own techniques. The model doesn't just shuffle in to the studio and get snapped: there is a process. As Rankin has noted, "It's really about getting yourself and the subject in the right mood where anything can happen. You can't predict what the image will look like but it's always the culmination of that fleeting moment when the synapses fire between two people and there is a connection. It's not so different from sex, or making love. You need to connect on some level. It can be any level, even hate or disgust. But in some way it's always a collaboration."

Of course, it is possible to misjudge--or abuse--this artificially created mood as Thomas does in Blow-Up, but on the other hand, a fashion shoot rife with a disapproving mood of austerity and censoriousness is limiting and unworkable.

(24 February 2018)